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Too Close, Too Distant, Just Right

You wouldn't know it by the way they rush into relationships so intensely, but for some people, marriage is frighteningly close. When the fear overwhelms them, they desperately try to create some space. Unfortunately, it usually overwhelms them when the relationship is at its happiest and most intimate.

For others, anything short of sharing the same pair of pants 24/7 can feel at times like the marriage is unraveling.

Guess what happens when these two types marry each other?

When you're feeling smothered or abandoned, you may feel unloved or like love isn't worth the pain. If you do, it's because the panic behavior feels like it's about you. It isn't. It's about what happened between your spouse and his or her caretakers in those first two or three years. And loving you has triggered panicked memories.

But you are loved. And neither of you is a vulnerable child now.

You don't want your spouse's panic to set off some of your own, so why not create some if-then rules for how you will handle the panic? Perhaps you will have a code word that means your spouse really needs to know where you are every hour or so for the next twelve. Set your alarm and send a text message once an hour to deliver a little bit of calm.

Maybe you two will create your own fun name for a day or weekend apart and plan in advance what the one who dislikes the extra space can do to pass the time. Having a plan makes it easier to give space as a gift to the one who needs it.

Another if-then rule might be that if one of you starts announcing rules for the other, you will stop and write them in a notebook for discussion on Thursday evenings only. By then, you just might find a Third Alternative that works a lot better than bossing your spouse around.

Or perhaps you will agree that if you will not be home together at bed time, the one who is out or traveling will call and say good night.

Because once your childhood fears return, your brain will be too busy watching out for other threats to bring your relationship back to just right.


Your writing always makes me think, Wow! How does she think like that?! I really like the announcing rules and the notebook idea. I'm a lot better than I used to be, and I think I could actually turn it into a funny if I said, "Oh, write it down for Thursday, Tammy!" CJ would laugh, and we could get on with things. Thanks so much, Patty!

Making a plan for time apart has really helped assuage the fears of separation for us. Then we can look forward to these these rare moments and fill them with things we love and talk about them later over a dinner out or a few pints.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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